Culture

Kanye won’t go away, but Lil Wayne is thankfully back

Lil Wayne’s comeback album ‘Tha Carter V’ and Kanye’s non-release of ‘Yandhi’ are a reminder of the good and bad of celebrity eccentricity.

Culture

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Culture

Kanye won’t go away, but Lil Wayne is thankfully back

Lil Wayne’s comeback album ‘Tha Carter V’ and Kanye’s non-release of ‘Yandhi’ are a reminder of the good and bad of celebrity eccentricity.

Kanye West was supposed to put out an album on Saturday. He didn’t, but that’s fine with me, because I probably would have listened to it twice and then forgotten about it. Instead, he did something that, while definitely not better, was certainly more memorable: performing on Saturday Night Live dressed as a Perrier bottle, dancing with a maniacal grin on his face alongside Lil Pump, who was wearing a Fiji Water costume. They were performing their single “I Love It,” a bad song when it was released that became even worse as the pair struggled to keep from cracking up and also not swear on live TV. It is a song that should not exist, but if Kanye is going to insist upon foisting it onto his exasperated fans, having to do so while dressed like a giant bottle of sparkling water seems like an apt enough punishment, even if Kanye’s too far up his own ass to realize how embarrassing it was.

Anyways, it’s probably for the best that Ye’s album, which was to be titled Yandhi, didn’t actually come out, because whatever poop Yeezy could have scooped out of the bottom of the barrel would have been blown away by Tha Carter V, Lil Wayne’s surprise — and surprising — return to form. Even Kanye himself tacitly acknowledged that Yandhi would have paled in comparison to Tha Carter V, writing on Twitter that he and his team knew Yandhi would “come in number 2 to my brother Lil Wayne and that’s lovely.” Perhaps the pressure of having his music compared with Lil Wayne’s was too much for West; more likely, however, is that West just decided to pull an Elon Musk and announce he was dropping an album without actually having an album ready.

Yesterday, Kanye sent out a bunch of tweets about bringing a hundred people to an upcoming TMZ appearance (?), how his YZY company is an unofficial branch of Apple (??), and how America needs to amend the 13th Amendment (???), but offered no explanation as to why Yandhi never dropped. I guess that means it’s never coming out, and he’s moved onto his next harebrained scheme. Either that, or Yandhi will have come out between the time that I finish writing this and when you started reading it, which will make me feel like an idiot.

Depressingly, Kanye capped off his SNL performance with a ramble ripped from a Turning Points USA Powerpoint presentation about media bias and why he should be allowed to wear his beloved MAGA hat. It's hard to remember, but Kanye first became famous for rapping like a regular guy at a time when everyone rapper on the radio was pretending to be a hip-hop superhero.

By contrast, Lil Wayne is and always has been a true iconoclast. There’s a generation of people, myself included, whose entire understanding of hip-hop was shaped by Wayne. Apart from an astonishing run of solo work released in the first decade of the millennium, he seemed to feature on every single song on the radio, gargling alongside everybody from Little Brother to Enrique Iglesias to Kanye himself. He united every type of hip-hop fan — he was stranger than anything that ever came out of the Anticon camp, more lyrical than anybody New York had produced in a decade, and carried on the passion and party that always typified the best Southern hip-hop records. He was a rock star in the truest sense, a once-in-a-generation talent toggled between the binaries — underground and mainstream, good and evil, genius and goofball, human and profoundly alien.

“We are not the same, I am a Martian,” went one of his signature lines. There were many times during his reign as the “Best Rapper Alive” when he really did seem like he’d come from another planet. Peak Wayne was weird: He rapped over Iron Maiden and tennis ball machines (though not at the same time), and once made a song with Weezer seemingly only for the sake of being able to rap the line, “Weezer and it’s Weezy.” He once spent an entire album outro ranting about Al Sharpton. He was a terrible singer, but that didn’t stop him from warbling through the entirety of his first number-one hit. He was a terrible guitar player, but that didn’t stop him from plinking on a Les Paul every time he got onstage, and it certainly didn’t stop him from making an entire (terrible) rock album that nearly derailed his career.

Even as the biggest rapper in the world, he still rapped about poop more times than will ever be socially acceptable. And while there’s certainly more than a little Wayne weirdness in artists like Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, or pretty much any SoundCloud rapper you could name, Lil Wayne flaunted his eccentricities on a world stage. He was a syrup-sipping, gang-affiliated superstar who sold a million albums in a week, took Katie Couric bowling while clearly whacked out on drugs, and had his skills lauded by Barack Obama, a fact he (deservedly) lords over us during the outro of Carter V’s “Dedicate.”

“Thank god Weezy back / Order is restored / All is right with the world,” Wayne raps on Carter V’s “Dope New Gospel,” pinpointing exactly what makes this new record feel so striking. Due to a combination of health issues and spats with his label, Wayne has been relatively silent in recent months, dutifully filing a guest verse here or a mixtape there, efforts that felt like Wayne was simply clearing out his vault so he could keep up with the mortgage on his personal skatepark/studio/bowling alley in Miami.

On Carter V, though, he not just rapping, he’s actually writing songs. In modern hip-hop, this is a relative rarity. Two-thirds of the tracks on Carter V are fantastic and among the best he’s ever made. The rest range from unlistenable — most notably “Don’t Cry,” which I literally couldn’t bring myself to listen to because it featured XXXtentacion — to fine-but-not-my-thing, which for Lil Wayne is basically an A-Minus. Inexcusable XXXtentacion feature aside, when Carter V fails, it fails admirably and boldly. While I certainly respect Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj’s right to turn “Dark Side of the Moon” into the climactic number in a nonexistent Broadway musical, I resent that they wanted me to actually listen to it. The same goes for “Perfect Strangers,” a breakup song in which Lil Wayne soberly analyzes a dying relationship and concludes that he has, in fact, done nothing wrong. Given the fact that Lil Wayne literally lives inside a fucking skatepark, it’s hard to believe the dude isn’t at least a little immature and selfish. But hey, 10 out of 10 for effort, even if it’s 0 out of 10 for execution.

These are the same impulses, however, that inform the best tracks on the album. He practically dances over the gentle beat of “Mess”; he invites his daughter to sing the chorus on “Famous.” On “Dope N—az,” he raps over that one bluesy part of Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive,” and doubles down on the Dre association by having Snoop Dogg appear on the song too (he pulls a similar trick on “Uproar,” rapping over G Dep’s roughneck classic “Special Delivery”). He and Kendrick Lamar play guys on opposite ends of a tryst — Wayne’s sneaking around with Kendrick’s partner — on “Mona Lisa,” transcending the corny conceit by dint of sheer lyrical fury, not to mention the metatextuality of having Lil Wayne and Kendrick, who is in many ways his heir to the “Best Rapper Alive” title, argue about anything over wax. It becomes a competition — Lamar trying to assert himself over one of the all-time greats, and Wayne trying to prove he hasn’t lost his moxie yet.

A decade ago, being a Lil Wayne fan meant looking in awe at his hard-living highwire act and marveling that he never seemed to fall — he was the outlaw, the underdog, the genuinely unhinged genius who was hanging on for dear life with the rest of us as he made insane artistic decisions simply to test the boundaries of the possible. Today, it means feeling grateful that he’s back to his old tricks and hasn’t lost his balance. It’s one thing in hip-hop to be missed, but as Kanye West’s proven recently, it’s something entirely different to wear out your welcome altogether. Perhaps, after his bizarre SNL performance and the non-release of Yandhi, West might be running out of whatever’s been fueling his very public missteps. He could use a break; we could use a break from Kanye, too, and get the chance to remember what we loved about him in the first place.

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